23 Things I Wish I'd Known: #13: Sex Work Does Not Solely Define You. Now or Ever.
At age 22, I started stripping. For the next fifteen years I worked off and on as a dominatrix, porn actress, and escort.
Now I’m 49.
Here are 23 things I know now that I wished I’d known then:
#13: Sex work is just one piece of your identity. It does not define you now. It will not define you forever.
I just got through watching Moonlight, and one of the many emotions it stirred in me was the memory of being a weird queer kid dreading bullies at school. That film dropped me right back into how fragile my body felt, how the schoolyard dripped with the menace of emotional and physical violence. That memory was horrible, but it was also good to be reminded of the fact that I don’t live like that anymore.
When I look back on my working days, I remember how deeply I felt that identity in my bones. Every morning, I would wake up and say to myself, “I am a prostitute. I made [X] dollars this week.” Whenever I left the house, walking down the street, riding a bus, I would look around and wonder if anyone could see it on me, if something about me revealed it to the world.
Sex work is transgressive, regardless of your own personal morality or religious upbringing. Because sex work is taboo in our culture, when we turn people on for a living, we cross a line. To some, this may feel exhilarating or gratifying. To others, it may feel like a fall from grace, or at the very least, living outside the margins of acceptable society. For many of us doing sex work, ambivalence colors our daily lives.
Additionally, whether you are a stripper, a cammer, an escort, a Sugar Baby, or any other job title, sex work is intense and frequently draining. We have to be on guard and alert, constantly managing both our presentation while studying other people’s reactions. We spend a huge amount of time naked on the job, or at least provocatively dressed, so it’s natural to feel exposed, even when not at work. Because the job is so emotionally immediate, when we're in the thick of it, it feels like sex work will always be a part of our mindset. I’m just here to say that as impactful as the work can be, that is simply not the case.
Sex work may frame our worldview – that’s to be expected. We can’t do any job for any length of time without it shaping how we look at life. It may very well affect your politics, the way you view gender and sexuality and power dynamics. It might impact on your sense of humor. (Probably making you way more fun to hang out with at parties.)
What it doesn’t have the power to do is fundamentally change who we are. It can’t mark us as bad or dirty or different. It doesn’t make us warped or ruined or unfit for normal life. The sex industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, employing hundreds of thousands of people at any given time. Millions of folks are former sex workers — they’re our neighbors, coworkers, our kid’s parents. The next time you stand in line at the supermarket, try guessing who has ever posted themselves naked online for cash or went on a paid date. It’s impossible to know.
Without question, when we're in the Life, we are of the Life, and we're reminded every day that makes us different. But it does not have the power to change the fact that we are beautiful, complex, loveable, full-bodied human beings with lives before, after, and beyond sex work. I have much more to say about Life After the Life in my new book, Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry, now available in paperback and as an ebook.
Until next time, be sweet to yourself.
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